While almost all women notice more or less white traces in their panties at the end of the day, few of them know where they come from, and above all how they are a fantastic tool for managing fertility naturally!
Often considered at best random, at worst dirty or shameful, these white or yellowish secretions are nonetheless completely normal and contribute to good intimate health. Each one has a specific role to play, which is why they don't all appear at the same time, and why changes in vaginal secretions can be observed day by day.
Knowing how to decipher them allows you to situate yourself in your cycle and therefore your fertility (in other words, the days when intercourse can lead to pregnancy).
So, let's take a look at the different types of discharge you can see in your panties, and what they can tell us about your cycle and fertility.
What are the different types of vaginal secretions?
Cervical mucus, the queen of loss during fertile periods!
Cervical mucus is by far the most important of all secretions. Cervical mucus is a secretion produced by the cervix under the effect of estrogen (a sex hormone produced mainly in the first part of the cycle). In other words, cervical mucus appears when women are about to ovulate. As the future ovum grows, the number of estrogens produced increases, and the mucus becomes more viscous.
Its profile therefore evolves in the days leading up to ovulation: initially rather sticky, it becomes creamier and then very viscous or even liquid at the moment of ovulation. It's a marvellous pre-integrated fertility indicator, and the basis of cycle observation methods for identifying fertile and infertile days. And when it's not sufficiently visible, it's important to encourage it to improve fertility, because without mucus, fertilization is impossible. Sperm can't survive without it in the acidity of the vagina, so it's cervical mucus that enables sperm to live for up to 5 days in the female genital tract. So when there's mucus, you're fertile, and even more precisely, when there's more liquid mucus, you're very fertile!
As soon as the mucus dries out or even disappears, ovulation has passed. In symptothermy (the science of cycle observation), mucus observation is always combined with temperature measurement to validate successful ovulation, as body temperature rises slightly after ovulation.
To recap, cervical mucus is produced in the days leading up to ovulation, during a fertile period of around 5 days.
Nevertheless, it's still possible to see traces in her panties the rest of the time. But why? Because other secretions are produced, we explain:
White discharge, the most common secretion
While cervical mucus is easily recognizable as rather moist, viscous and thick (it's often compared to a raw egg white at the moment of ovulation), the rest of the time, menstruating people may have constant secretions that look more like a "pasty crust" in their underwear, but which they won't necessarily feel when wiping themselves on the toilet (unlike mucus, which makes paper slide!). This is commonly known as white discharge. It's made up of two things:
- The infertile version of cervical mucus, which doesn't flow but sticks to the cervix, blocking access when you're not fertile. This dry, sticky mucus can break down a little, giving rise to these pasty secretions.
- Vaginal cells, which flake off and also leave a dry, whitish appearance in the underwear.
This mix of infertile mucus and detached vaginal cells can result in a white discharge that can be observed throughout the cycle. Some women will never see any, others will see it every day, others only on certain days. In any case, it's totally normal, as every menstruating person is different.
The art lies in knowing how to distinguish these sticky secretions from moist mucus, so as to recognize the fertile period when you're about to ovulate (when the moist sensation typical of fertile mucus appears) and when you're coming out of it and therefore have no likelihood of pregnancy (when you have a drier sensation and observe only white discharge or nothing at all).
White discharge and cervical mucus are two types of secretion produced naturally by the body.
But another type of secretion can be observed:
Secretions after intercourse
After intercourse, several types of secretions can be observed. These include s
- Cyprine, produced before or during intercourse under the effect of desire by Bartholin's glands, located at the entrance to the vagina. Cyprine is actually a sexual arousal fluid, which helps lubricate the vagina and vulva during intercourse. In principle, it only flows before or during intercourse, so there's little risk of it being confused with mucus or white discharge.
- Seminal fluid, or sperm: this secretion is produced by people with penises and can be observed following penetrative sex. However, it can be found up to the day after intercourse. It can then be difficult to differentiate sperm from mucus. One technique is the glass-of-water technique. This involves taking a sample of liquid and placing it in a glass of water: if the material remains in one piece, either floating or settling to the bottom of the glass, it is cervical mucus. If, on the other hand, it dissolves, it's sperm (or cyprin, or even infertile white discharge). Only cervical mucus does not dissolve in water! Making this distinction is particularly important for women who want to become pregnant, as this is a time when it's essential to pay attention to your cervical mucus in order to calculate your ovulation and fertility period. But it's also a time when intercourse is more frequent and it's difficult to differentiate between sperm and cervical mucus.
Unusual color or odor, a sign of infection?
Last but not least, menstruating women may at times experience an odorous or unusually coloured discharge. In fact, all the secretions mentioned so far are normally transparent, white or even yellowish or slightly pinkish, and practically odorless. However, as soon as the secretion has a strong odour (often of rotten fish) or an unusual color (particularly green or grey), it's a sign of mycosis, vaginosis or another infection that needs to be treated. If this is the case for you, we advise you to consult a doctor. The same applies if your discharge s is accompanied by itching, burning, pain or fever.
So much for mapping the secretions you can find in your panties. As you can see, the one that's most important to recognize is cervical mucus! Whether you're planning to have a baby, want to manage your contraception naturally and avoid the fertile period, or just want to reconnect with your cycle, cervical mucus is your best integrated indicator!
I hope this overview has enabled you to make the distinction, and as you can see, when in doubt, draw your glass of water!
Our menstrual panties are perfect for all the vaginal secretions that can occur during your cycles.
Author Laurène Sindicic is the founder of the Emancipées platform, which aims to give women the keys to understanding their bodies, deciphering their cycles and optimizing their fertility, with empowerment and without taboos! She supports women (and couples) in their baby project through a 3-month program called the Fertility Club. You can also find her on Instagram @Emancipees.